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Texas State sophomore outside hitter Caitlan Buettner (10) and sophomore middle blocker Tessa Marshall (5) reach to block the ball during the game against UTEP, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, at Strahan Arena.

Texas State volleyball split its home-opening weekend, pulling off a 3-2 (15-25, 25-22, 25-12, 23-25, 15-10) victory over the University of Texas at El Paso Sept. 11 and losing 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 20-25, 23-25) to the Miners Sept. 12.

UTEP kicked off the Sept. 12 match with a 7-0 run in the first set, capitalizing on the ‘Cats’ .086 hitting percentage to take the set 25-21.

Texas State bounced back and led by as much as seven in the second set and held off a Miners’ comeback to pull off a 25-23 win in the set.

Despite tying the game 11 more times, Texas State was never able to regain a lead for the remaining two sets, losing the third set 25-20 and narrowly missing a fifth set win with a 25-23 loss.

Head Coach Sean Huiet credits UTEP’s work-ethic for the loss.

“We just got outworked today,” Huiet said. “We have to know that everyone will be giving us their best, so if we do not come ready for that, we will be playing catch up. Today, UTEP wanted it more than we did.”

The Bobcats overtook the Miners in blocks (9.5-9) but were outpaced across the board, falling 53-55 in digs, 42-56 in assists and 46-57 in kills. Sophomore Caitlan Buettner led the team with 11 kills, while junior setter Emily DeWalt pulled off her second consecutive double-double with 34 assists and 15 digs.

In the Sept. 11 game, junior outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald landed a career-high 20 kills to lead the team to a 3-2 victory over UTEP.

Despite taking five sets, Huiet said that he is happy with a win no matter how long it takes.

“I will take an ugly win over an ugly loss any day of the week,” Huiet said. “UTEP is a very good team that made us work for every point tonight, so I’m happy that we got the win but it’s also showing us some things that we need to work on.”

Huiet said the win was more significant because the team was back on its home court.

“There’s just something different about playing in Strahan and being in front of our fans with all of the traditions that we do,” Huiet said. “It was really exciting to be back home.”

Texas State had a slow start in the first set as the Miners pushed to an 18-8 lead. Despite a late surge by Texas State, UTEP’s .348 hitting percentage sent them over the edge as they took the set 25-15.

This game served as UTEP’s first game of the season. Fitzgerald said not knowing their opponent and dealing with a sturdy UTEP block set them back the first set.

“We hadn’t seen a block like that in a while so it was challenging,” Fitzgerald said. “We had to mix up our shots a lot better, and their libero is great, so we had to move around so it wouldn’t go to her. There were just a lot of aspects on their side that we weren’t really used to seeing, but we eventually got it.”

The ‘Cats had a night-and-day performance in the second set, pushing to an eight-point lead and ending a 5-0 UTEP run to win 25-22 and tie the match.

The momentum continued into the third set, with senior middle blocker Tyeranee Scott tallying three back-to-back kills to put the Bobcats on the right track, while Fitzgerald finished them off with a final kill to take the match 25-12.

The fourth set was tightly contested with neither team gaining an advantage early on. UTEP eventually took control, going on an 8-3 run to take a 20-15 lead. Texas State made a late run, trimming the score to 24-23 before committing a service error to give the set to UTEP 25-23.

Texas State took an early advantage off a kill from DeWalt leading to a 5-0 run by the Bobcats. Texas State kept rolling, at one point leading 11-4 before a UTEP timeout. Junior middle blocker Jillian Slaughter stopped a UTEP run with a kill and solo block to bring the set to match point. Fitzgerald finished the match with a kill, ending it 15-10.

Texas State will return to Strahan Arena Sept. 18-19 to face off against Houston Baptist.

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